Tag Archives: Pope

“Numero Zero” by Umberto Eco

NumeroZero

As a result of the recent passing of Umberto Eco, I decided to bump this book up on my reading list. It is his most recent book, and sadly, his last one. It’s a short novel and fairly easy to read—not nearly as challenging as some of his other books. Still, it is classic Eco, steeped in conspiracy and social commentary, with ample references to history and literature.

This is a story about a newspaper in Milan that stumbles upon a conspiracy that may connect Mussolini with the Vatican, and suggests that Mussolini’s death was fake. There are lots of references that probably would have meant more to me if I was better versed in Italian history, but that did not detract from the book in any way. There is one criticism about this book, though, which I should probably get out of the way first. Personally, I thought the translation was very weak. It almost seemed like someone plugged the text into Google Translate which then spit out a translation void of nuance. This is especially noticeable in the dialog. All the language is flat and it is almost impossible to discern one character from another.

“But it’s like calling John XXIII the Good Pope. This presupposes the popes before him were bad.”

“Maybe that’s what people actually thought, otherwise he wouldn’t have been called good. Have you seen a photo of Pius XII? In a James Bond movie he’d have been the head of SPECTRE.”

“But it was the newspapers that called John XXIII the Good Pope, and the people followed suit.”

“That’s right. Newspapers teach people how to think,” Simei said.

“But do newspapers follow trends or create trends?”

(p. 83)

So in the previous excerpt, there are actually three people taking part in the dialog, but it is virtually impossible to tell one from another based upon the tone of the person speaking. I suspect in the original Italian, there was more nuance in the voices, but I cannot be certain about that. Anyway, now I can talk about what I liked.

This book’s strength is its critique against the news media. I’ve read essays by Eco where he addresses problems with news media, but here he presents his ideas creatively through fiction.

One of the ideas that Eco puts forth in this book is that news organizations actually create the news.

It’s not the news that makes the newspaper, but the newspaper that makes the news.

(p. 49)

This is true. The newspapers and news stations decide what is news and what is not. They decide what information is disseminated to the populace, and often these decisions are influenced by political agendas and advertising. In addition to the news media deciding what is “news,” there is another issue that impedes one’s ability to find important and unbiased news, and that is the fact that in the digital age, news is buried and hidden within a “sea of information.”

The point is that newspapers are not there for spreading the news but for covering it up. X happens, you have to report it, but it causes embarrassment for too many people, so in the same edition you add some shock headlines—mother kills four children, savings at risk of going up in smoke, letter from Garibaldi insulting his lieutenant Nino Bixio discovered, etc.—so news drowns in a great sea of information.

(pp. 140 – 141)

This passage makes me think a lot about FOX News and their scrolling ticker across the bottom of the screen. On a regular basis, the word ALERT! in red appears and pulls your eyes toward the ticker, distracting you from whatever is being discussed in the report. I cannot help but wonder if the timing of the alerts is orchestrated. As an experiment, I think I will watch closely and note what is being discussed each time an alert flashes at the bottom of the screen.

While this was not my favorite Eco book, I am still glad I read it and it is certainly worth reading, in spite of the translation issues. It’s a quick read and as with everything that Eco wrote, it is impossible to read this book and not come away a wiser person for doing so.

Cheers, and keep on reading!

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“The Life and Death of King John” by William Shakespeare

KingJohnWhile I love Shakespeare, I confess that up till now I have not read many histories. In fact, the only one that I had read before King John was Julius Caesar. That said, I liked this play a lot and I’m now excited to read more histories.

As a character, I despised King John. I found him annoying, selfish, and full of entitlement. But I suppose that tends to happen to people who think that they rule over others by Divine Right. In fact, John refuses to adhere to a Papal decree on the ground that he feels he rules England by Divine Right:

What earthy name to interrogatories
Can task the free breath of a sacred king?
Thou canst not, cardinal, devise a name
So slight, unworthy and ridiculous,
To charge me to an answer, as the pope.
Tell him this tale; and from the mouth of England
Add thus much more, that no Italian priest
Shall tithe or toll in our dominions;
But as we, under heaven, are supreme head,
So under Him that great supremacy,
Where we do reign, we will alone uphold,
Without the assistance of a mortal hand:
So tell the pope, all reverence set apart
To him and his usurp’d authority.
(Act III: scene i)

In the same scene, John continues to rail against the Catholic Church in the one passage where I agree with John. He speaks out against the Pope’s use of indulgences as a way to gather wealth and wield power. This was one of the criticisms that the Protestants had against Catholicism, and John addresses this most eloquently:

Though you and all the kings of Christendom
Are led so grossly by this meddling priest,
Dreading the curse that money may buy out;
And by the merit of vile gold, dross, dust,
Purchase corrupted pardon of a man,
Who in that sale sells pardon from himself,
Though you and all the rest so grossly led
This juggling witchcraft with revenue cherish,
Yet I alone, alone do me oppose
Against the pope and count his friends my foes.

I found the relationship between Arthur and Hubert to be interesting. I got the impression there was a sexual attraction between them. It’s not clear whether that attraction was ever consummated, but just from the verbal exchange between them it is clear that there is a close connection. The exchange is kind of long, so I won’t include it here, but keep it in mind when you read Act IV: scene i.

I think what I like the most about this play are the references to acting, theater, and writing. They are scattered throughout the play and I found them to be brilliant. Here are a few that really stood out for me:

  • This act is an ancient tale new told. (Act IV: scene ii)
  • Be great in act, as you have been in thought. (Act V: scene i)
  • I am a scribbled form, drawn with a pen upon a parchment. (Act V: scene vii)

This play has gotten me excited about the histories, especially since it is not supposed to be one of Shakespeare’s better ones. I’m now eager to read them all, which I most certainly will (pun intended).

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